The “Zero Moment Of Truth” in the technical B2B arena

The “Zero Moment Of Truth” (ZMOT) idea, which I introduced yesterday, encapsulates how the internet has changed everything in marketing. It’s an excellent way of getting over to people that the internet isn’t just another promotional channel, but something which has permanently changed buyer behaviour.

Let’s look at what that means in the technical B2B arena. It’s really hard for us to remember what things were like 20 years ago, but I remember an article I ran in a magazine back then, written by an engineer at a machine building company. In it, he proudly described the (fax-based) system he’d created to ask a wide group of suppliers if they could meet any specific product need he encountered. By doing this, he reckoned he could ask 20 different suppliers if they could help him, rather than the 3 or 4 he’d normally phone. And he’d get brochures in the post from 5 or 10 who could might be able to meet his brief, rather than the 1 or 2 he’d have got in the past.

Then, of course, he’d have to read the brochures promptly to see if the proposed products were suitable, in advance of the inevitable follow-up calls from sales departments. However, there was a roaring trade in brochures being despatched and sales meetings being set up.

Fast forward to this decade, and the buying process is very different. Now, we all go to Google, try to describe what we want, and spend hours researching the subject before we even think about initiating a conversation with a supplier. It’s quite possible that we might go all the way to choosing a supplier before making any contact – and as those of you who are able to run online stores know, we may even go as far as buying our product without making any personal contact.

Yet there are many companies who still measure the success of their website (and indeed their marketing) by the number of brochure requests they get, as if it’s 1994. Sure, you’ll still get brochure requests, but in most cases, that won’t be a speculative enquiry, rather just a way of a customer initiating a discussion with a supplier who’s already been identified as one they’ll probably use. No wonder you don’t get as many as you used to.

Indeed, I know that many companies whose website calls to action are a choice of: “send me a brochure” or “get someone to call me” find that the second option is as popular at the first. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t even have bothered to offer the second.

Those who understand the ZMOT concept realise that nowadays, getting a request for a sales call (or even that direct sale) is all about the breadth of their online presence. You can’t leave your sales success to having a better sales rep than the opposition, because many buyers choose their preferred supplier before getting anything like that far. Even if your sales story is human-driven, and all about how helpful and experienced you are, that has to be put over online. The actual people who are helpful and experienced need to be seen as the authors of articles, the faces in videos and the connections on LinkedIn discussion groups. Somehow, you need to be found, and look good when you’re found.

If salesmen 20 years ago normally got the beauty contest question of “Tell me why I should buy your product rather than your competitor’s”, today they’re more likely to hear: “I want what you’ve got, now convince me I’ve made the right choice”. It’s a different challenge for sales, but getting to that point represents an even bigger change for marketing.

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